Jesse Eisenberg cast as Lex Luthor in 'Batman/Superman' film -- BREAKING

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Image Credit: Jim Spellman/WireImage

Jesse Eisenberg, say goodbye to that curly head of hair.

The Oscar-nominated star of The Social Network has been cast as the Man of Steel’s ultimate foe in Warner Bros. upcoming Batman/Superman film, the studio announced today.

He’ll be joined by another actor with Academy Award history: Jeremy Irons (won won Best Actor for 1990′s Reversal of Fortune) will co-star opposite Ben Affleck’s Batman as his butler and confidante Alfred Pennyworth in the upcoming Zack Snyder-directed film.

The selection of the 30-year-old actor is unexpected, to say the least. For months, rumors circulated that Snyder and company were wooing Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston — who obviously would have been a fearsome, fan-favorite choice (who already knows how to rock a bald dome.) Some less-reputable sites claimed he was even “confirmed” for the role, though when EW spoke directly with Cranston he always said he was aware of the chatter, but that was all there was to it.

No Heisenberg, it turns out. But just drop that H …

Snyder was thinking in an entirely different way.

“Lex Luthor is often considered the most notorious of Superman’s rivals, his unsavory reputation preceding him since 1940″ Snyder said in a statement announcing the Eisenberg deal. “What’s great about Lex is that he exists beyond the confines of the stereotypical nefarious villain. He’s a complicated and sophisticated character whose intellect, wealth and prominence position him as one of the few mortals able to challenge the incredible might of Superman. Having Jesse in the role allows us to explore that interesting dynamic, and also take the character in some new and unexpected directions.”

Irons is a compelling choice, but a far less surprising one, another sophisticated British actor following in the footsteps of past Bruce Wayne footmen played by Michael Caine (in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy), and the late Michael Gough (who appeared in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, it’s sequel Batman Returns, and the two lesser-appreciated follow-ups).

But Snyder also said Irons would bring a new flavor to the conscience and bat-whisperer who aides Wayne’s vendetta-fueled crimefighting quest while trying his best to protect the man within the suit.

“As everyone knows, Alfred is Bruce Wayne’s most trusted friend, ally and mentor, a noble guardian and father figure.  He is an absolutely critical element in the intricate infrastructure that allows Bruce Wayne to transform himself into Batman.  It is an honor to have such an amazingly seasoned and gifted actor as Jeremy taking on the important role of the man who mentors and guides the guarded and nearly impervious façade that encapsulates Bruce Wayne.”

The still-untitled Batman/Superman mash-up will be a sequel to last summer’s Man of Steel, with Henry Cavill returning as Superman, and Affleck rebooting The Dark Knight franchise as Batman. The film was originally set for July 2015, but was recently pushed back to May 6, 2016. Some filming of exterior scenes for a football game has already taken place.

When Affleck was cast, just months after his Iran rescue drama Argo won the Oscar for Best Picture, it caused a crushing onslaught of fanboy rage that continues to this day, and probably will endure until the public finally sees how he acquits himself inside that shadowy cowl.

Fans are used to a confident and brash Lex Luthor — whether it was Gene Hackman’s sneering, cocky take on the villain opposite Christopher Reeve in Richard Donner’s 1978 comic-book landmark Superman, Kevin Spacey’s sinister scenery-chewing sociopath in Superman Returns, or — perhaps most deliciously — Michael Rosenbaum’s best-friend-turned-nemesis in the TV series Smallville.

Even in the DC Comics, Lex Luthor has always been a figure of power, strength, and charisma. Eisenberg, on the other hand, is an actor known for his radiating anxiety, and a crushing social awkwardness. That’s what made him impeccable as the calculating but introverted Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, but it’s likely to provoke those purist fans who like their iconic comic book characters to remain faithful to the source material.

One thing that simply can’t change is Luthor’s genius, and the casting of Eisenberg provides a chance to give that trait a new twist. Instead of being fueled by arrogance, we are more likely to see a Luthor fueled by insecurity — and like it or not, that’s uncharted territory for this figure, who has been fodder for stories for 74 years.

Another quality Eisenberg has (to put it bluntly): He can play a real son-of-a-bitch.

Consider him just this week as the environmentally hyper-conscious neighbor on Modern Family:

Oh, how he needles. Don’t you already want to see him get punched by someone REALLY strong?

For all his soft-spoken meekness, Eisenberg is an actor knows how to make an audience hate him. He is the master of deliberately pushing all the wrong buttons, while acting as if he only wants the best. In Man of Steel, Superman was a good guy who needs to prove it to the world; and Luthor (whose LexCorp company was briefly teased in the movie) is a seemingly benevolent entrepreneur who harbors a deep, dark kink in his soul that very few can see, X-ray vision or not.

Luthor has super intellect, but no innate super strength. To compensate, the comic-book and videogame version of the villain has taken to a gigantic green and purple mechanical power suit that enables him to engage in hand-to-hand with his superpowered foes. Ultimately, that just makes him another brawler.

Die-hard fans might be wise to use their voices to urge Snyder to keep Eisenberg out of the suit, and instead craft a story that gives us a villain with a mind that is much more frightening.

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